Memories of Slovenian diplomats on the 20th anniversary of Slovenia's international recognition
There is, unfortunately, not enough space in this column to include all the memories and so we published only fragments of the Slovenian diplomats' memoirs, which are available in full, together with the memoirs of other diplomats, on the webpage of the Slovenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs ›
Dr Boris Frlec:
"Dr Boris Frlec: "We worked enthusiastically and with drive. It was a pioneering time."
…. In late January, after eagerly awaiting the appointment, I indeed returned to Bonn as an Ambassador of the Republic of Slovenia, a country recognised by the EU on 15 January. Upon the presentation of my credentials, President Richard von Weizsäcker said to me that this was the first time in his career that he had received credentials from the same person for two different countries. I replied that we lived in a time of unusual historic trials. Just years earlier, it would have been impossible to predict that East and West Germany would merge to become one. "I knew you'd come back!" said Minister Genscher, grinning characteristically. I was received with affinity, my colleagues in the diplomatic corps helped me to establish a diplomatic mission, find the facilities for the Embassy and the residence, and furnish them – all whilst maintaining normal diplomatic activity.
My wife, Darja, and I moved into Dahl Hotel. A notepad and a pencil were all the equipment I had back then. Zupanc had already put his skills to good use in Mehlem, Bad Godesberg, near Bonn. He had found the premises for the Embassy along the Rhine; we soon found a house, and my wife and I moved in on 26 February because staying in the hotel room had become insufferable and most impractical for diplomatic activities. The house in Niederbachem was not ideal in many ways, but the most burning issue was that the owner's apartment was in the same house. We purchased the office equipment and gradually established an operational embassy. Ljubljana started to send furniture for the residence, which was partly equipped with furniture that had been purchased locally. We did most of the physical work ourselves and my craftsmanship came in handy. We worked enthusiastically and with drive. It was a pioneering time. All the while, the work of the Embassy had to be carried out in parallel. As well as permanent contact with German politicians and colleagues in the diplomatic corps, I appeared in the media on many occasions, held lectures at various associations and maintained close contact with our migrants. I often had to travel to different parts of Germany and even to Frankfurt, 135 kilometres away, to welcome or bid farewell to Slovenian politicians.
In mid-April, we received the paintings lent to us by the Ljubljana City Art Gallery. Its head, my close acquaintance, Aleksander Bassin, selected a number of works of modern Slovenian art and provided physical assistance in setting up the exhibition at the Embassy. We were pleased it would enliven the reception celebrating the opening. Ambitiously, but in hindsight rather tactlessly, we announced the opening for 28 April. Minister Rupel, who was travelling regularly at that time, was rather disappointed by this, because he had wanted to attend the reception. However, it was too late to postpone the date. On that day, the Slovenian flag fluttered in front of the Embassy, the reception was a success and the work in the new facilities commenced.
Dr Božo Cerar:
"Seeing the dead and the wounded, I realised that very evening that Yugoslavia, even as a loose federation, had ceased to exist. There was no way back."
On my way home from the bridge, a Yugoslav Army helicopter flew low and audaciously over us. It made my blood boil to see what was happening in my country and, clearly, it was really happening. I decided at once to join our armed resistance. In Trzin, a settlement not far away from the blocked Yugoslav armoured motorcade, I noticed some members of the Slovenian Territorial Defence. I thought frantically about where I could make myself useful. The decision was not difficult. Barricades had been set up in the streets, but I managed to get to Ljubljana on an overcrowded train coming from Kamnik. At 7:30, I informed Minister Rupel and the Republic Committee for International Cooperation of my presence. Zvone Dragan, Ivo Vajgl, Mitja Štrukelj, Andrej Logar, my other colleagues from Belgrade, and I gathered in the office of Secretary-General Matjaž Kovačič. That morning, we became officially involved in the work of the Republic Committee for International Cooperation.
Dragan, Vajgl and I were ordered by the Slovenian presidency to try to get to Belgrade by car that same morning, and establish contact with foreign embassies on Slovenia's behalf. The situation worsened during the day and our mission was considered too dangerous. As a result, our trip to Belgrade was postponed. I remained at the Republic Committee for International Cooperation and tried to make myself as useful as possible: I phoned numerous foreign officials and journalists, and prepared information on the situation in Slovenia for the rest of the world.
There are certain events in one's life that stick out and, for me, this was the fighting that took place between the Slovenian Territorial Defence and the Yugoslav Army just a few metres from my house. I will never forget the deathly silence that followed the surrender of the Yugoslav Army troops. People could not believe we were fighting an army that, not long ago, had been the people's army, our army – but now it was sowing death in our streets and gardens. Seeing the dead and the wounded, I realised that very evening that Yugoslavia, even as a loose federation, had ceased to exist. There was no way back.
The next day, Minister Rupel sent a letter to the Federal Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Budimir Lončar, informing him that Slovenia had withdrawn its people from the Federal Secretariat for Foreign Affairs.
Dr Milan Jazbec:
"International recognition brought great joy, relief and honour."
October witnessed the end of the three-month moratorium. It became clear that independence was an inevitable process, one that would soon receive international recognition. Those Slovenian diplomats who were still working in Yugoslav diplomatic missions and consular posts started returning home to join the Slovenian diplomatic service. During his annual leave, the Consul General went to the United States to visit his daughter. Irena Zdovc returned to Ljubljana, while I was instructed to stay in Klagenfurt for as long as possible or until it was safe to return. The consulate staff accepted that fact, for it was clear that Belgrade had forsaken us, politically speaking. The atmosphere was still tense, but I was under the impression that the worst was now over. In early December we received an encoded message that the Yugoslav government had adopted a decision to close several embassies in distant countries and some consulates, including the one in Klagenfurt. Klagenfurt probably found its way onto the list because it was Yugoslav property and they feared that Slovenia would occupy the premises after Slovenia's expected recognition. This possibility was actually considered at the time. Nevertheless, we decided to act in accordance with international law; as an emerging country, we had to show recognition of and respect for the rule of law. By the end of the month, a team came from Belgrade and took the documents and the archives somewhere; but I managed to destroy some of the documents. The consulate general building and the entire premises, including the large garden and courtyard were closed and sealed off. The keys were given to municipal authorities, which took over the maintenance and protection of the building. The Yugoslav Consul General from Graz, who attended the closing, invited me to join his service, saying he would make the necessary arrangements in Belgrade. I said I would think about it; I had to buy some time.
… International recognition brought great joy, relief and honour. Congratulations came from all sides, and the tune changed, if I may say so. I returned to work full-time: I made appearances as a representative of a newly formed country, although my status was not clearly defined. While in Ljubljana, I discussed the issue of my legal status with Matjaž Jančar, Head of the Department for Neighbouring Countries. We had an embassy in Vienna and no consular post in Klagenfurt. After discussions with the German Vice-Consul in Klagenfurt and others, the Slovenian government opened a consulate general headed by Honorary Consul Karel Smolle. He was a Carinthian Slovenian and one of the first authorised Slovenian representatives abroad by the appointment of the DEMOS government. As the Vice-Consul and the only member of staff, I was in charge of everything. Following the appointment of the Consul General, I was promoted to Consul. In agreement with the Ministry, I began searching for premises for our future consulate general. I found rooms on the second floor of the building at Bahnhofstrasse 22A in the city centre. We officially moved there in June, before Statehood Day. We were enthusiastic, very busy and full of energy…
Published in Sinfo, February 2012.